How laws are made – understanding the legislative process in Australia

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Explains the process legislation takes from its inception to becoming Australian law.
Australia Government, Public Sector
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In Australia, the process of creating laws is a fundamental function of the Australian Parliament, which consists of two houses – the House of Representatives and the Senate. This article will explain the process legislation takes from its inception to becoming law, highlighting, and explaining the Parliament's role in shaping the legal landscape for the people of Australia.

What is the legislative process?

The process of making laws in Australia is governed by a set of procedures that ensure thorough consideration, debate, and scrutiny to be undertaken for any proposed legislation. This process begins with the conception of an idea for a new law or the need to amend our existing laws to address evolving the changing needs of society, perceived challenges, or a new aspiration. An example of this might be the recent changes to Australia's employment laws reflecting changes in the way we work.

What is the role of Parliament?

One of the primary functions of the Australian Parliament is to make laws that serve the best interests of the Australian people. This responsibility is enshrined in the Australian Constitution1 and it forms the cornerstone of democratic governance in our country. Parliamentarians, representing diverse constituencies, collaborate to draft, debate, and enact laws that reflect the values, aspirations, and needs of the people in Australia.

What is the process for the passage of legislation?

  1. Proposal and drafting

The journey of a law typically commences with a proposal or idea, which may originate from various sources such as government departments, advocacy groups, or by individual parliamentarians. Once the proposal gains some traction, it is transformed into a draft bill, which is a formal document outlining the proposed law's provisions, objectives, and mechanisms for its implementation. The consultative and approval process is extensive. The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet publish the Legislation Handbook2 and a companion volume, called the Cabinet Handbook3 which sets out the various processes required.

  1. Introduction to Parliament

The draft bill is then introduced in either the House of Representatives or the Senate, depending on its nature and origin. Most bills are introduced in the House of Representatives because most ministers sit there. Government-initiated bills, usually debut in the House of Representatives, but private members' bills may originate in either house. There must be notice given of the bill's introduction and then the bill will be formally introduced and read.

  1. Parliamentary debate and committees

After introduction, the bill undergoes rigorous scrutiny, debate, and examination by various parliamentary committees. These committees, comprising members from different political parties, subject the bill to a detailed analysis, to public consultations, and expert testimonies to assess its merits, the implications of the bill, and the alignment of the bill with the Australian constitutional principles.

  1. House consideration and amendments

After relevant committee scrutiny, the bill returns to the respective house for further debate and amendments. Members of Parliament (MPs) will engage in substantive discussions, propose various amendments, and vote on the bill's provisions to ensure its alignment with all legal, ethical, and policy considerations.

  1. Passage through both Houses

If the bill garners majority support in the house where it originated, it proceeds to the other house for a similar process of scrutiny, debate, and any potential amendments. Both houses must ultimately agree on the final version of the bill for it to proceed further.

  1. Royal Assent

Once both houses endorse the bill in its final form through voting, it is then presented to the Governor-General for royal assent. Royal assent is the formal approval by the Crown (represented by the Governor-General) that transforms the bill into law, marking the culmination of the legislative process.

This legislative process in Australia epitomises democratic governance, transparency, and accountability. Through a systematic journey of proposal, drafting, parliamentary scrutiny, and public deliberation, laws are created to uphold the common good. Parliament's central role in this process underscores its commitment to serving the interests and welfare of the Australian people, ensuring that laws are enacted in accordance with democratic principles and constitutional norms.


1 Australian Constitution s 51 and s 52.

2 Commonwealth of Australia, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Legislation Handbook.

3 Commonwealth of Australia, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Cabinet Handbook 15th Edition.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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